As a trainee in science, one of the most important areas on which to get feedback is your research and research plan. But it can be intimidating or anxiety-producing to talk to your mentor about your science. Whether it’s because you feel lost and unsure of what you are doing, your experiments aren’t going well, or you think your mentor isn’t interested or doesn’t have time for you, the process of talking to your mentor about your research can seem very daunting. Not to worry. In this live Q&A, our expert panelists will address the common challenges that trainees face when talking to their mentors about their science, and how to overcome them. Bring your questions and find out how to make this conversation with your mentor as productive as possible.
WHEN: November 6, 2017
TIME: 1:00 p.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. PT
*Click on the link to join the event. You can set a reminder on the page.*
This live Q&A is part of the iBiology Courses “Planning Your Scientific Journey” course, but anyone, not just course participants, are welcome to attend. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #iBioCourses.
by Clinton Parks
Becoming an NRMN Grant Writing Coach
As a psychologist, Denise Dillard has made a career of providing mental health care to the Alaskan community she comes from. She teaches the subject as an adjunct at Alaska Pacific University and heads the research department at Southcentral Foundation, a health and wellness provider for Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and nearby villages. But she has seen too few fellow Alaskan Native STEM professionals — she is of Inupiaq heritage — so she jumped at the chance to be a coach for the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) when her long-time mentors and GUMSHOE directors Dedra Buchwald and Spero Manson asked. The GUMSHOE program (or Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences) is one of four NRMN models that teach groups of postdocs and early career researchers how to write competitive grants.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded NRMN program is designed, among other goals, to address problems pointed out in a 2011 Science paper that found a statistical disparity between black scientists and whites seeking NIH Research Project Grants, or R01s. NIH data showed that from 1985 to 2013 underrepresented minority applicants remained less likely to receive funding than whites.
NRMN’s Four Models of Grant Writing Coaching Groups
NRMN’s four coaching models differ from one another with respect to the duration of the program, specific teaching methods used, as well as the level and type of subject matter included, with each program being best suited to rising investigators at a particular stage of their research career. GUMSHOE and NRMN STAR (or NRMN Steps Towards Academic Research Fellowship Program) are designed to help those expecting to start work on a grant within the next year and who therefore need to learn the basics. The NRMN-P³ (or NRMN Proposal Preparation Program) and NU (or Northwestern University Model Grant Writers Coaching Group) programs are designed for those currently working on grants.
Above: Founding GUMSHOE program directors Drs. Spero Manson, left, and Dedra Buchwald, during a session with a GUMSHOE cohort of mentees
Unlike any of the other NRMN grant writing coaching group models, GUMSHOE specializes in training researchers engaged in population research with specific populations. Dillard’s cohort focused on addressing some of the unique considerations inherent in research on Native American and Alaska Native populations, for example, while other cohorts focus on one of several other underrepresented groups such as Black/African American populations or Rural domestic populations (participants in GUMSHOE are not required to be a member of the given population of focus in order to be eligible to join the cohort). A specific challenge for those studying Alaska Native and Native American populations is the need to maintain close ties to specific communities. “Staying in the community is really important to doing good research” for members of her cohort, she says. Not only are the target populations often in areas away from universities and research institutions but many live in sovereign communities. Dillard compares this to doing international work with the need to get certain permissions and approvals, a process that can be time-consuming. So researchers in her cohort and those doing similar work must be flexible.
The NRMN models accommodate this flexibility since activities take place largely independent of a specific location, Dillard says. “That distance delivery model [NRMN provides] is really beneficial” since mentees rarely have to leave their communities or home institutions to benefit from the coaching offered. Dillard describes the eight-month GUMSHOE program as three days of didactic, in-person training at the University of Colorado followed by planned, periodic check-ins via email or phone.
A big challenge for Alaska Natives and Native Americans in STEM professions is that they may be the only person of that ethnicity with their specialty, according to Dillard. She notes that for population scientists it’s often necessary to translate cultural idiosyncrasies to the typical, unfamiliar reviewer — whether that involves the work being done, the environment, the researcher’s role, or the researcher’s ability to successfully conduct research.
Lisa Barnes, a professor in neurological sciences and behavioral sciences at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, has noted a similar disconnect among scientists of color and what she calls “mainstream” scientists. The NRMN STAR coach notes that people of color generally study topics that are often not as highly valued as mainstream science topics, which themselves often marginalize the participation of people of color. While science is often thought of as neutral and apolitical, recent findings continue to suggest that it can be subject to some of the same biases and prejudices as other aspects of humanity.
During the 12-month-long NRMN STAR program, Barnes and other participants met at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) at least four times. The six coaches each worked with two of the 12 total mentees in the cohort. “It was pretty intense,” she says. Some of the coaches in Barnes’ NRMN STAR cohort were social scientists like herself, while others were immunologists, or studied other areas.
NRMN STAR focuses on professional development with a nuts-and-bolts approach to grant writing, focusing on developing basic writing and other skills that provide a foundation for both grant writing and the mentees’ general professional development. It’s based on the “STAR” program used at its home institution, UNTHSC where it’s headed by faculty member Harlan Jones. It was Jones along with Jamboor Vishwanatha, also faculty at UNTHSC and one of NRMN’s Principal Investigators, who brought Barnes on board as an NRMN STAR coach.
Above: NRMN STAR 2015-2016 cohort with former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher at University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Research Appreciation Day (RAD); Vishwanatha: first from left; Barnes: third from left; Jones: fourth from left
Barnes is a big believer in the STAR curriculum, one she describes as grabbing mentees by the hand once they come in the door and holding their hand until they’ve left. For underrepresented groups in STEM “the pipeline is really a funnel,” she says. Not only the amount but also the proportion of people of color gets narrower the further you go through. When not given favorable reviews on grants, candidates from underrepresented groups are less likely to resubmit, Barnes says. That’s why she believes it’s important to coach them before they apply for that first grant; developing mental toughness is necessary to be a grant-winning researcher, Barnes notes.
Models for Mentees More Experienced with Grant Proposal Writing
Moon Chen of the University of California, Davis, who studies cancer health disparities, particularly among Asian-Americans, has also noticed that sort of toughness and positive attitude among mentees in the NRMN-P³ cohort he coaches. He was pleased by how quickly they overcame their reservations to provide candid yet constructive feedback.
The NRMN-P³ and the NU programs, being tailored to those currently working on grants, assume the mentees have some experience writing grants and “are ready to write at the program’s start.” There’s an emphasis on peer review and mentees are expected to submit the grants they’ve been working on to NIH at the end of their program.
NRMN-P³ is based on the four-month method built by Anne Marie Weber-Main at the University of Minnesota, from whom Chen learned about the model and how to be a coach within the program. Chen has since adapted the NRMN-P³ curriculum to best suit his mentees’ needs. His cohort consists of Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans while many of the other cohorts assembled to date have involved more researchers from other denominations such as Black or Latinx (each cohort accepts applications from researchers of all backgrounds). It’s also distinct in that it has more physicians in its cohort than most other NRMN groups thus far. But these are physicians who want to advance their fields and study populations, unlike typical clinicians who focus on single patients.
Relative to the foundational curriculum for NRMN-P³ developed by Weber-Main, Chen’s approach with his cohort at UC Davis implements some unique teaching methods. Chen organizes cohort members into one of three groups: clinicians (Chen’s group), basic scientists, and behavioral/population scientists. He believes these specialty divisions provide for greater interpersonal relatability, synergy, and accountability.
Above: Moon Chen (center) with NRMN Principal Investigator Kola Okuyemi (to Chen’s right/ viewer’s left) and the cohort of mentees at the kickoff session of the NRMN-P³ program at UC Davis
Chen likens his teaching style in the program to that of a sports coach. While coaches may not be able to do what they’re asking the athlete to do, they can tell the athlete how to do it better, he says. And that outside perspective is valuable when considering strategies and perspectives in grant writing. He’s also not a believer in the didactic method: “I think people learn best by doing.” Teaching, he says, is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s best for those going into academia to submit a competitive grant application within four years of receiving their doctorate since time is a factor in getting NIH funding, Chen notes. He feels it’s his obligation, being himself funded by the NIH, to give back and pass that knowledge down to others, especially those who have faced similar struggles.
Chen has been fighting the battle to increase diversity in STEM for a long time, and he is not alone. Meeting face-to-face has helped break down those initial barriers people have in trusting one another, according to Ann Etgen, emeritus professor of neuroscience at New York City’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine where she serves as coach implementing NRMN’s NU model. She’s been fighting to increase diversity in STEM at Einstein for 25 years among summer undergraduate students, as well as with Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students. She helped begin the Summer Program in Neuroscience, Excellence and Success at Woods Hole in Massachusetts as a board member for the American Psychological Association. From the mid- to late 2000’s she sat on Society for Neuroscience (SfN) committees focused on upping the number of women and underrepresented minorities in science. They realized that diversity in STEM doctorates was increasing but few were getting faculty positions because they were not winning grants. “We needed to be doing more to help the successful transition from junior faculty to promoted faculty,” according to Etgen. Those SfN committees helped bring about the use of one-on-one coaching sessions to help these junior faculty, she says.
Above: An NU cohort of mentees during a lecture by Daniel Jay (not visible) at Tufts University Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences in Boston, an additional coach hosting the NU grant writing program at his institution
But those sessions were done intermittently and lacked substantive personal connections. With more time available now as a professor emeritus she wanted to sign up as an NRMN coach, so she contacted her colleague Rick McGee, Associate Dean for Professional Development at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the NU model program director.
NU model participants meet in person initially and then interact every two to three weeks online, Etgen says. The program runs for three to four months. Mentees are taught the rhetorical language patterns that are proven to be most effective when proposing a grant. The latest of Etgen’s cohorts included four neuroscientists whose research includes the genome database, epilepsy, and multielectrode recordings of mood.
With cohorts comprising such diverse research interests from program to program, all the NRMN coaching groups invite NIH program officers to contribute their expertise in activities such as mock study sections. Non-expert coaches and other mentees also take part in the review process, since actual grant proposal review boards of 20-25 people typically contain only one or two who will have expertise in the given field, Etgen says. “Everybody in the group reads everybody’s material,” Etgen says. “You can’t write your grant just for the experts in your field.” Getting feedback from people whose background and expertise varies is necessary to “frame, justify, and explain [the proposed research to] anyone that’s scientifically literate,” she says.
Dillard concurs. Getting perspectives from those of other disciplines helps sharpen the writing by necessitating the writer make the science clear enough for non-experts to understand. And while her cohort also consists of different disciplines, a good grant application always requires coherent writing and logic.
And that’s where the coaches come in. “Grant writing isn’t something you’re born knowing how to do; it’s a teachable skill,” Etgen says. So they take it “sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph.” Barnes calls the NRMN STAR process “grant writing 101” in which every section of the grant is explored, as experts are brought in to talk about every step, and individual roadmaps are built to navigate mentees through career obstacles.
The Road Ahead
The coaches agreed that it’s still too soon to know if their efforts are having the desired impact and all agree that their coaching groups should be continued. “It takes time to see a reversal trend,” Chen says. And with NRMN being relatively new and NIH applications taking a year to be ruled on, he thinks it’s premature to evaluate whether they’re making a dent yet. While Dillard knows any change will take time, she’s encouraged that NIH leaders are willing to make changes and spend money on the problem just by creating NRMN, which signals progress.
Etgen believes NIH funding is disproportionately concentrated among a few researchers. “I don’t think that’s the best way [for NIH] to spend their money.” Worse, she doesn’t think the racial climate in science is getting any better, saying that institutionalized racism effuses our society, and that includes scientific panels. “That being said, you can’t give up. It’s not an easy thing.”
But there are signs of hope among the networks that NRMN is fostering. After all networks were how most of the coaches here become so. Dillard found that her own network has also been expanded by GUMSHOE when she learned that another Alaska Native had recently been hired at a local school for a STEM position. One of Barnes’ NRMN STAR mentees has reached out to her for help and another has gotten a position at the NIH. “That felt special,” she says, believing that she’s had a part to play in their success.
For more information about NRMN’s grant writing coaching groups and the four curricular models, contact NRMN’s Professional Development Core via email at email@example.com.
Contributed by Andrea Gouldy
On June 23rd, the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) celebrated the completion of its first cohort of the NRMN Steps Toward Academic Research (NRMN STAR) Fellowship Program, a 12-month professional development program housed at the UNT Health Science Center. NRMN STAR is one of four intensive grant writing coaching group models offered through NRMN’s Professional Development Core.
Fellows participated in a yearlong intensive grant writing program that combines on-site professional development and education with distance learning techniques including online virtual meetings and “store and forward” technology. The program is designed to enable STAR fellows to achieve greater success in securing external sponsorship of their research, and to promote their transition to independent research careers. NRMN STAR also prepares its fellows to contribute to the scientific community by encouraging their involvement in mentoring their younger counterparts.
This past year’s NRMN STAR fellows hailed from University of Colorado Denver, Texas Tech University, Morgan State University, University of Minnesota, University of California- San Francisco, Binghamton University, University of Kansas Medical Center, and Southern University. Coaches-in-training traveled from Rush University Medical Center and Cornell to coach the fellows alongside 3 UNTHSC faculty.
NRMN STAR has provided me with the fundamental skills and support I needed to write my first NIH grant. The coaches and my cohort of fellows have been invaluable in helping me gain the confidence to begin engaging in this process. My conceptualization of ideas and communication of my science has dramatically increased over the past several months.
–Brandy Piña-Watson, Ph.D.
The NRMN Steps Towards Academic Research (NRMN STAR) Fellowship Program is one of four professional development program models offered by NRMN through its Professional Development Core.
NRMN STAR 2015-2016 cohort with former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher at University of North Texas Health Science Center’s Research Appreciation Day (RAD)
Participants at the postdoctoral and early career stage faculty levels convene in person and virtually over the course of 12 months to review principles of basic, clinical, and translational research; participate in intensive grant writing coaching sessions; review biostatistics; and learn techniques for navigating the funding process with NIH and other funding agencies.
Click here or on the image below to meet this year’s Fellows and Coaches in the first issue of the NRMN STAR digest newsletter.
Applications to participate in the next cohort, kicking off in July 2016, are due on or by April 19th, 2016.
Interested in becoming a Fellow? Click here for more information, and to apply
Interested in becoming a Coach? Click here for more information, and to apply
NRMN researchers from the Morehouse School of Medicine, University of Wisconsin — Madison, Northwestern University and University of North Texas Health Science Center will be offering several sessions through this February’s Understanding Interventions that Broaden Participation in Science Careers, a three-day conference taking place February 26th – 28th this year in the city of Philadelphia.
Understanding Interventions is made possible in part by support from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).
See below for a list of the sessions being led by NRMN-affiliated faculty and staff.
Stephanie House, Dr. Christine Pfund, Dr. Christine Sorkness, and Kimberly Spencer of the University of Wisconsin — Madison share their research on the impact of training on faculty mentors’ awareness of diversity and on their subsequent behaviors in a session entitled The Impact of Mentor Training on Faculty Perceptions of Diversity within Mentoring Relationships.
From the official abstract:
Cultivating a more diverse scientific community is of benefit to science as well as society. Mentoring is a key factor in this process, as it substantively impacts mentee academic success across career stages. Mentor training, which has been shown to improve mentoring relationships, could act as an important link to better prepare mentors to work with diverse mentees. In our study we examine the impact of training on faculty mentors’ awareness of diversity and on their subsequent behaviors. We report the results of qualitative analysis from interviews with 134 mentors from 16 academic health centers who participated in 8 hours of mentor training, with one hour specifically focused on issues of diversity. Sixty one percent (N=84) of mentors reported some level of change in their diversity awareness from the training, with 25% of those (N=21) describing behavioral change. These data provide insights into the ways that mentors make sense of diversity within mentoring relationships, the role of bias, and the ways mentors can move from awareness to action. Implications for mentoring relationships, mentor training initiatives, and institutional efforts to address diversity will be discussed. We will give a brief overview of these data followed by a discussion to further explore the data and discuss implications.
Dr. Japera Johnson and Dr. Winston Thompson of the Morehouse School of Medicine will be offering a deep dive into Using Team Science and Mentoring Constellations to Enhance Translational Research Activity: An Overview of the Mentoring Academy at Morehouse School of Medicine
From the official abstract:
…Over the past forty years, MSM has established a nationally recognized track record of success in developing minority investigators through its pipeline programs. In 2011, MSM launched the Mentoring Academy, an initiative designed to centralize research training and professional development programs for academic faculty. As a smaller institution, MSM aggregately has an impressive funding record but, disaggregated there are few senior-level investigators that can serve as mentors for early-career faculty. Moreover, as MSM positions itself as a leader in translational science and health equity, it recognized the need to provide opportunities to transform its traditional structure of development programs in discrete disease-based or scientific discipline areas to a broader, translational research approach. Thus, it developed the Mentoring Academy based on the need for an aggregate core of cross-disciplinary senior investigators to guide mentoring and provide professional development translational research activities. In this Deeper Dive Symposium, the authors will overview the structure of the Mentoring Academy and explain its theoretical foundation in both team science and mentoring constellations.
Team science… leverages the wide-ranging skillsets of varied scientific disciplines and perspectives (Stokols et. al, 2008). As it has become progressively more challenging to attract, train, mentor and conserve a quorum of early-career clinical and translational scientists (Zerhouni, 2005), MSM contends that the combination of mentoring and team science creates a synergistic platform from which early career scientists are optimally equipped to benefit from access to cross-disciplinary senior-level mentors that are engaged in translational research and have sufficient social, technical and scientific capital to develop junior faculty. Studies demonstrate that this type of mentoring positively impacts research productivity, career satisfaction, and promotion and tenure among academic faculty (Longo et al., 2011). Increasingly, it is acknowledged that the use of multiple mentors, especially a network of mentors is essential to achieving career success (van Emmerik, 2004).
…Mentoring constellations allow greater access to resources, information, and career sponsorship which have been positively associated with increased salary, promotions and career satisfaction (Sorcinelli and Jung, 2007). To that end, MSM established an internal infrastructure to provide access to an organized constellation of mentors. Pragmatically, this positioned MSM to more effectively and efficiently leverage its scarce resource of senior-level investigators to provide intensive mentoring to accelerate the professional development of translational scientists.
Dr. Johnson will also be offering a symposium entitled Exploring Value Congruent Mentoring and Goal Setting Among Underrepresented Scientists
From the official abstract:
Effective mentoring is often highlighted as a key intervention to address the underrepresentation of minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM). It is theorized that as mentors collaborate with mentees to identify career goals and strategize professional outcomes, they serve as transformational leaders that promote positive changes in the mentee for the purpose of professional development (Scandura and Williams, 2004). Research on this type of mentoring relationship suggests that mentees experience higher intrinsic motivation and elevated career expectations as a result of transformational leadership mentoring (Sosik, Godshalk, and Yammarino, 2004). Additionally, research indicates that transformational leaders positively impact the development of self-concordant goals (Bono and Judge, 2003). However, it has been demonstrated that underrepresented minorities (URMs) face particular social challenges in STEMM related to stereotype threat, resulting in negative expectations, performance and interest in STEMM (for e.g. see Shapiro and Williams, 2011). These threats may impact the way in which URM mentees perceive and set goals for personal and professional outcomes. To that end, this paper explores goal setting among Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F31) pre-doctoral mentees to assess the potential role of transformational leadership to enhance goal setting among URMs. We provide a theoretical framework for value congruent mentoring, described as a transformational mentoring relationship in which the dyad is sufficiently aligned on intended professional outcomes. Further, we explore the relationship between value congruent mentoring and the development of self-concordant goals for URMs. Overall, we found that 73% of the mentoring relationships in our sample were value congruent. However, the proportions of alignment for URMs and non-URMS were statistically significantly different (X^2 = 383.88, p < 0.0001). 78% of non-URMs were aligned with their mentor on their intended professional outcomes, while only 53% of URMs were aligned. However, we found that URMs were less likely to set self-concordant goals compared to their non-URM counterparts even when in a value congruent mentoring relationship (X^2 = 11.6224, p = 0.0088). We conclude with a discussion of future research directions to clarify goal setting for URMs in STEM.
Dr. Amada Butz, Dr. Christine Pfund, Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, and Dr. Janet Branchaw of the University of Wisconsin — Madison will be exploring Increasing Mentors’ Ability to Promote Research Self-Efficacy in Their Students: An SCCT Intervention in STEM Fields.
From the official abstract:
Efforts to retain underrepresented minorities (URM) in the sciences have received considerable attention. Valantine and Collins (2015) recently highlighted several challenges to diversifying the biomedical workforce, including the need to identify psychological and social factors that can address barriers to workforce diversity. Self-efficacy, the belief that an individual has in his or her ability to complete a given task (Bandura, 1986, 1997) is one psychological factor that can begin to address these barriers. Although several interventions aimed at URM retention have been developed and implemented, few have employed a theoretical frame to inform their practice. This study seeks to build on the existing literature by examining the effectiveness of a mentor training intervention designed to educate mentors about self-efficacy and its sources using social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) as a framework. Mentors of undergraduate mentees (N = 28) participated in a 1-hour mentor training workshop designed to educate mentors about the concept of self-efficacy and its sources in the context of a research lab experience. The training session took place in Summer 2014 and Summer 2015 at a large research university located in the Midwest. Mentors who participated in the self-efficacy training seminar reported significant gains in their skills in assessing mentees’ confidence for research and recognizing deficits in mentees’ confidence for research. Results in combination with feedback from intervention facilitators and mentor-participants will be discussed.
Dr. Harlan Jones of the University of North Texas Health Science Center will present a poster session about NRMN’s Grant Writing Coaching Group model, “NRMN-STAR.”
From the official abstract:
Recognizing the difficulty for junior faculty to accept a summer-long fellowship which would require an extended absence from home and family, the NRMN STAR provides a year-long schedule. The program provides a unique approach that combines on-site professional development and education with distance learning techniques that include on-line digital meetings, and “store and forward” technology. Programs include: a) workshops on principals of basic, clinical and translational research b) intensive grant writing workshops; c) biostatistics refresher; d) navigating NIH and other funding agencies; and e) professional and career development workshops.
Anticipated program success is expected to increase the number and proportion of: a) applications submitted by and awarded to URMs under various NIH grant mechanisms; b) publications authored in peer-reviewed journals; c) diverse populations promoted and tenured in research tracks; d) underrepresented populations participating in the NIH grant review process; e) underrepresented populations participating in the peer review process for scientific journals, and f) underrepresented populations serving in research leadership positions at their institutions or professional organizations. At the conclusion of this initiative, a diverse cadre of early-stage faculty will have achieved greater success in securing external sponsorship of their research, in transitioning to independent research careers, and in turn mentoring their younger counterparts.